You can spend your whole life trying to break into the music industry and never make it. Which is a very depressing way to start an article, sure, but it’s also a way of acknowledging that there is no one set method of getting your foot in the door – if there was, everybody in the planet would be using it.
Just like any other creative enterprise, making music is difficult, and time consuming, and likely to be a drain on your resources (not to mention your emotional energy). There are a lot of people who have given up on the dream of making music full-time, and there will be a lot more before something even more depressing happens, like the day an asteroid collides with the earth or we all get swallowed up by the sun.
All that hideously downbeat stuff said, there are things you can do to help yourself – ways you can better your chances of reaching the difficult yet intensely valuable dream of making art. And while these following tips might not be bona fide ways to score a record deal, they could just make what is otherwise an exceptionally difficult task just that little bit easier.
Enter an artist development program
Making music for a living is all about managing logistics – about making the right connections, and answering emails, and shaking all those hands that need to be shook. Which can all get just a little bit overwhelming at times: without proper direction, you can often feel like you’re battering away in the dark, or, to mix metaphors, like you’re trying to work your way through an intensely complicated game without ever having been told the rules.
That’s where applying for something like the Grass Roots Indie Development (or GRID) Series comes in. Each year, eight lucky artists from Melbourne’s greater south east are hand-picked to receive mentorship from industry names like Tash Sultana’s manager David Morgan, The Smith Street Band’s publicist Danae Effern, and VVV Management maestro Tom Larkin.
Plus, you’ll also score the expert team at El Perro Productions to help develop, record, distribute and promote your music – and a showcase to play it live – giving your music career a very handy kick-start.
If you’re eligible, applications for this year’s program are open right now.
The GRID Series offers mentorship and resources to help new artists break through
Take on any and every gig you can
Similarly, a lot of emerging artists think that the path to success involves only taking high-profile gigs, nabbing the support slots that won’t pay well, but are apparently worth considerably more in prestige points. And at a certain point, yes, it does pay to be picky, but it’s important to remember that the key to establishing yourself as an act is, y’know, establishing yourself.
Don’t be ridiculously picky – if a gig pays, and you can play it, then you probably should. It’s a cliche, but you genuinely never know who might be watching any given show, and any early gig is a chance to get your name and your music out there. Play enough varied shows and don’t pigeonhole yourself, and you can broaden your opportunities and quickly earn yourself a reputation as a go-getter. And doesn’t everyone want to be a go-getter?
Just as importantly, every gig is a chance to hone your craft, and playing those gigs you’re not particularly comfortable with is often the best way of doing that – it’ll all conspire to make you a better performer.
Attend music conferences
A lot of emerging artists are of the opinion that conferences – opportunities to network and chances to chinwag – are the domain of managers and bores rather than exciting new acts. But that’s a load of rubbish.
Although you might think your heroes wouldn’t have been caught dead at a conference like Brisbane’s BIGSOUND or Melbourne’s Face The Music, that’s because the musicians you love were getting famous in the seventies, when the economy was booming, rent was cheap as fucking chips, and the world was pretty much offered to them on a plate.
Sure, the conference passes can set you back a bit, but with the biggest names in the industry handing out valuable insight on all sorts of panels and the rest of the Australian music scene shaking hands over beers, those passes can be worth every cent if you make the most of them.
You’re not a boomer – you’re a musician working away in a world devastated by boomers. Act accordingly.
Conferences like BIGSOUND offer an invaluable insight into how the industry works
Don’t just ask for support – be supportive
It’s all too easy to become overly focused on your own career and your own career alone – becoming one of those terrible stick in the muds who only goes to see gigs that they are playing at. But you can’t play the game that way. Become the kind of person who only looks out for number one and you’ll quickly find that no-one is looking out for you.
And anyway, when did the music industry become a race? It’s not about shoving the competition out of the way so you can get yourself to the top spot. Music’s a business, but it’s an art too, and should always be considered such – especially by emerging musicians. So, listen to your mates’ tunes, buy their merch, catch every gig of theirs you can, and never, ever rest upon your laurels.
Always be writing!
It’s the hoariest old cliché in the book of hoary old clichés, but practice really does make perfect. Don’t just settle with meeting up with your band once a week and trying to bash out a few songs – try and fit in some creative time every single day, whether it be 20 minutes or two hours. It’ll suck, and it’ll feel like you’re banging up against a brick wall, but the more you keep at it, the easier you will find writing becomes.
Even those stricken with writer’s block need not worry – if you’re struggling to write something of your own, just toy around with a few classics. Learn songs to cover; pore over the work of the masters; and generally keep yourself creatively busy. It is the only way that you’ll ever improve – and, more than that, it is the only way you’ll ever get enough material to launch a career upon.
Keep making music, because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.